MVRHS junior claims top spot in regional science fair

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Christopher Aring's augmented-reality sand table on display at the South Shore Regional Science Fair. – Photo courtesy of MVRHS

Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School junior Christopher Aring of West Tisbury won first place at the South Shore Regional Science Fair held at Bridgewater State University Saturday. Chris is the first Island student to reach the finals in regional science fair competition.

He will represent Massachusetts at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF), which will be held in Pittsburgh, Pa., May 10 to 15.

Chris will be one of about 1,700 students from 70 different countries, regions, and territories who will display their independent research at the Intel ISEF. State judges were so impressed with his work that they presented him with an additional honor.

“I was given a special International Science & Engineering Fair award which allows me to skip the Massachusetts State Science & Engineering Fair and proceed directly to the Intel ISEF,” he told The Times.

“I couldn’t believe it; I was speechless,” he said.

His winning project, an augmented-reality sand table, took second place at the Island science fair held Feb. 7 in the high school cafeteria.

The project allows users to manipulate sand to represent different topographical formations and to study how they are affected by changes, such as erosion and water, for example. A corresponding computer-engineering program projects the images and changes back onto the table in real time.

Chris built his project with no intention of entering the Island science fair. Chemistry teacher Natalie Munn suggested that he enter it. The project was an expression of curiosity. He began the planning of his project early last year.

“His project was very independent-driven; that’s what makes it so good,” Mrs. Munn told The Times. Last fall he did an independent study with Woody Filley, school information technology director, and used that time to work on his project.

“He has a genuine interest and understanding of his project, and the judges see that,” Mrs. Munn said.

The project was unique among many of the other science fair projects because it is interactive. “My project stood out to the judges and the crowd because it is interactive and fun to use,” Chris said. “When someone uses the sand table, they are physically put into the project. They are not just looking at data.”

With the Intel ISEF still weeks away, Chris will not be resting on his laurels. He plans to use the time to improve his project. “Through conversation with the judges and visitors, I have come up with many more ideas for the sand table,” he said. “There are a multitude of things I want to add in order to make the table more functional, in hopes that it can have impact on a wider audience.”

MVRHS science teacher Jackie Hermann attended the regional science fair. “It is a historic event, a huge accomplishment for Chris and the school,” Ms. Hermann said. “Not only was he a finalist, but he won the grand prize out of all 110 projects.”

Chris has plenty of support going forward. Elliott Bennett, vice principal and head of the science department, is confident he will excel.

“Chris is a very talented, forward-thinking young man,” Ms. Bennett said. “His ability to articulate how the augmented-reality sand table works and his vision of how it will be used in the future will definitely make him a strong candidate for the judges.”

Chris is the son of MVRHS English department chairman Dan Sharkovitz and Cynthia Aring of Ohio.

Correction: The headline in an earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Chris Aring as a senior. He is a junior.